We’re just about six weeks out from the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones and all of the craziness that entails—but first, let’s talk about Valentine’s Day. Whichever historical version of St. Valentine you subscribe to, tradition is pretty clear about the fact that his life ended in violent martyrdom: beaten first with clubs and/or stones, and then beheaded. Sometime in the High Middle Ages, he became associated with the tradition of courtly love and romance, which is probably why we celebrate February 14th with cards and chocolate and not a sackful of blunt instruments and nasty sharp things. (I mean, unless that’s your scene; I’m not here to judge.)
No matter how you slice it, any holiday that manages to combine unspeakable violence, sex, money, love, romance, religion, confusing historical vagaries, politics, legend, and at least one execution into something we celebrate by stuffing sweets into our faces is a Westerosi holiday in my book...
And so it’s time to strap in for a very special look at what we’ve learned so far about the ups and downs of Love, GRRM-style, from some of our favorite GoT couples. I mean, it can’t all end horribly...can it?
[Warning: spoilers through the end of season three of HBO’s Game of Thrones in the post below; possible spoilers for the books and upcoming seasons of the series in the comment section, so read at your own risk!]
Khaleesi’s Just Not That Into You: Ser Jorah and Daenerys
Poor Jorah. He insists that there is a beast inside every man, but lately it seems like his own inner beast is a very sad panda. Sure, he started out spying on Daenerys for Varys, but soon became her most loyal and fervent supporter, throwing away his chance to return to Westeros in order to protect her and stay by her side. Unfortunately, his feelings for her are unrequited in a big way, and now suddenly he’s being upstaged as an advisor by Ser Barristan and as a potential Drogo-replacement hunk by newcomer Daario Naharis. Will he continue to twist in the awkward wind of the Friendzone, where longing looks go to die, or will Ser Jorah finally decide that he’s tired of being just another roadie on Dany’s Blonde Ambition Tour through the lands across the Narrow Sea?
Daenerys and Daario Naharis: Smirking Gigolo, Ahoy!
We knew Daario was going to be trouble the minute we set eyes on him (and yes, that goes for both Original Flavor Daario and Scruffier Replacement Daario). Even without the flashy blue beard and gold tooth that he sports in the books, he’s the Tyroshi equivalent of Fonzie and James Dean rolled up into a bad boy burrito supreme, with bonus assassin skills. Plus he knows how to play to Daenerys’s particular set of turn-ons, which include sexy mercenaries, loyalty oaths, the severed heads of her enemies, and successful invasion plans.
Personally, I’m a fan of new Daario Michael Huisman’s previous work—he has a knack for making smarmy characters really fun to watch, and it will be interesting to see how this relationship plays out in the coming season—but part of me still wishes somebody would throw a wet blanket on all that smoldering (but probably ill-fated) sexual tension. Even the dragons are like, “Seriously, Dany? That guy is not to be trusted. Maybe you should just stay home with us and rent The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants instead. We’ll make popcorn and hang up the ‘No Jorahs Allowed’ sign, and…wait, where are you going?” Sigh.
The Newlyweds: Robb and Talisa
Too soon? It’s been over eight months since the Red Wedding episode aired, but I’m still not sure that’s enough time to get through all five stages of fictional character-related grief: denial, anger, freaking out about what happened to poor Grey Wind (WHY? We’ll never forget you, Grey Wind!!!), pretending to think about cancelling HBO, and finally, a kind of grim acceptance. I doubt there’s much of a silver lining, here, (certainly not for Talisa and Robb) but as long as you don’t spend Valentine’s Day weeping and/or slow dancing alone to “The Rains of Castamere,” let’s count that as a win.
Roslin and Edmure: The Young and the Clueless
Things started off so well for these two, but now everyone’s dead and Edmure is officially a hostage of the Freys. Awkward. Just because Walder Frey is the world’s worst wedding planner doesn’t mean the relationship is completely doomed, right? Maybe these two crazy kids can still make it work…somehow?
Next Season on The Bachelor: Walder Frey
Well. It seems that Lord Frey is suddenly...available. He’s got a fancy new title, and is apparently quite fertile. GET IN LINE, LADIES: This grizzled hunk of twisted, rancid, treacherous manmeat won’t be single for long.
Stannis and Melisandre: Is This Burning an Eternal Flame…or is This Just Creepy?
I guess these two won’t be making any more killer shadow-babies together, since apparently that would drain too much of Stannis’s vital essence (unless that’s just Mel’s way of saying she has a headache…forever). So now they get their kicks burning leeches and contemplating human sacrifice and generally weirding poor Davos out at every turn. Considering that their ambitions go beyond the purely political to the messianic in scope, Stannis and Mel seem to be operating on a completely different wavelength from other couples on the show. Factor in his wife, Selyse, and her crazy baggage, and we’re basically staring down the world’s most unappetizing all-you-can-eat buffet of dysfunction and creepiness this side of a Peter Greenaway film. Who knows how it will all pan out, but in the meantime, I’ll be over here with Davos wearing our happy, sparkly “Team Shireen” t-shirts.
Take A Walk On The Wildling Side: Jon and Ygritte
These two. They’re like the Sam and Diane of Westeros. Boy captures girl, boy lets girl escape, girl captures boy, boy pretends to be a traitor, there’s a crazy cave sex interlude, then they hang out with giants, boy refuses to kill an old man and escapes, but not before girl shoots him in the leg with an arrow: it’s a classic tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, etc. They even have a delightful catchphrase that kind of makes me want to rip my ears off every time Ygritte drops yet another sassy truthbomb. I can’t wait until they work out their hilarious differences, move to the suburbs, have 2.5 kids and launch their own spinoff sitcom, which will basically be a quasi-medieval I Love Lucy but with fire and killing and a giant ice wall in place of Vitameatavegamin and bridge with Fred and Ethel Mertz. Let the wacky hijinks ensue...
Papa, Don’t Preach: Sam and Gilly
Finally! Sam and Gilly: you are too precious for this world. Two likeable, vulnerable characters from abusive, traumatic backgrounds, thrown together by circumstance, both have suffered horribly at the hands of their respective fathers (Randyll Tarly threatened to murder Sam if he did not take the black, while Gilly is one of Craster’s daughter/wives, impregnated by her father, then forced to give up the child when it turns out to be a son). Yet both of them remain hopeful and unembittered and kind—and after saving Gilly’s baby from both Craster and the White Walkers, they’re also both learning that they are stronger and more courageous than they thought possible. Also, remember that time that Gilly called Sam a wizard?! So great. I want nothing but good things for Sam, Gilly, and the baby they’re both hellbent on protecting. Don’t you dare break my heart again, Game of Thrones. Just don’t.
Bran and Meera: Puppy Love On the Run
He’s a warg. She’s a badass. Together they
solve crimes! save the world? Another couple to root for, against the odds, although there hasn’t been much time to dwell on Bran’s crush during their frantic flight northward, between all the green dreams and White Walkers and warging and excessive Hoder-ing. I doubt the constant peril will lessen now that they’re beyond the Wall, but after all he’s been through, Bran deserves all the small moments of happiness he can get, even if they’re few and far between.
The Casual Dungeon Hookup: Theon and Random Ladies
Okay, real talk: Theon is an intensely unlikeable character, but even his staunchest critics have to wince at his latest predicament: crucified, flayed, hunted down, and tortured witless in a dank, lightless cell, his torment has been uncomfortable to watch on every level. So when two mysterious women appeared and released him from the rack whilst cooing sexy blather in his ear, every single fiber of your being was probably screaming “It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbar-style, at top volume. Only viewers raised on a steady diet of Benny Hill reruns and paint thinner thought this scene was going to result in a Penthouse Forum letter, right?
And of course, the mysterious nubile wenches of doom are only there to shove Theon in front of the express train barreling irrevocably toward Castration Station. To quote his mystery torturer: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” It’s a pretty solid motto for the show overall, but probably not something you want to scrawl in a candygram anytime soon…
When Rebounds Take A Bad Bounce: Loras and Olyvar the Sexy Squire/Spy
We’ve all been there: your true love is murdered by a magical shadow-assassin, forcing your family to abruptly shift alliances, and you’re suddenly stuck back in King’s Landing (aka “the most terrible place there is”) while your grandmother plots to marry you off in the most strategically advantageous way possible. You finally hit it off with a cute guy who seems to understand you…and it turns out that he’s actually a prostitute on a mission to get all up in your business and go scurrying back to Littlefinger with any useful gossip. But hey, it could be worse—at least you’re not betrothed to a terrifying Lannister! Oh, wait…
He’s Actin’ Single, She’s Drinkin’ Doubles: Loras and Cersei
JUST LOOK AT THE HAPPY COUPLE. Their faces pretty much say it all. I mean, Loras has been planning his Barbie Dream Wedding since he was a boy. I wonder if Cersei’s a fan of gold and green brocade and fringed sleeves? This is so exciting and totally not the worst idea ever… (Guys, I feel so badly for both of them. SEND HELP).
Cersei and Jaime: Reunited and It Feels So…Good?
So, Jaime finally made it home to Cersei, but I sense trouble in twincest paradise ahead. Even beyond the fact that Cersei may have trouble adjusting to her brother’s mutilation and missing swordhand, there’s the problem of their son’s increasingly erratic behavior—something tells me that she’s in no mood for the whole “We Need To Talk About
Kevin Joffrey” conversation that so desperately needs to happen.
Add in all the political and familial machinations and rivalries currently afoot at Lannister HQ, and I’d say a return to the carefree Forbidden Sexytimes of Yore is very much in doubt. Quite frankly, something about the way Cersei’s been sloshing around the Red Keep with a Big Gulp full of Dornish Red makes me think this season is going to feel a lot less like a V.C. Andrews novel and a lot closer to a King’s Landing Community Theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The Masochism Tango: Joffrey and Margaery
I love Margaery Tyrell. I love her smirky plottyface and her crazy Highgarden couture, and more than anything, I love watching her play Joffrey like a cheap lute. Cooing over his crossbow in one of the creepier moments of the last season, batting her eyelashes and playing Bonnie to his psychotic Clyde, Nancy to his sadistic Sid, Natasha to his brutal Boris, she’s my favorite type of character in the world: a likeable femme fatale, gaming the system to her own advantage. It’s a pleasure to watch her work—if anyone has to be saddled with arch-creeper Joffrey, I’m glad that it’s someone who seems familiar with the care and feeding of sociopaths, and is smart enough to potentially turn the tables on the spoiled little tyrant. Good luck, lady.
It’s Hard Out There For an Imp: Tyrion and Shae
Tyrion has always been one of the most relatable characters in the series—the smart, funny, outcast with an actual moral compass, navigating his way through a sea of monsters, dullards, and sociopaths. He also has a depth and vulnerability that viewers/readers naturally identify with, and so we want things to work out for him—while recognizing that this is exactly the kind of hope that Game of Thrones loves to toy with and then grind gleefully into the dust without warning.
His relationship with Shae is under constant threat from both Tywin and Cersei, should they ever catch on, and then there’s the considerable internal strain and complications caused by his marriage to Sansa Stark. Sansa is helpless, Tyrion won’t run away with Shae, Shae won’t flee to safety without him, and so for now, everyone involved in this lopsided ménage-a-trois is stuck in miserable limbo until further notice. Sooner or later, something’s got to give… but in the meantime, let’s hope nothing cuts off their wine supply. They’re going to need it.
Are You There Gods? It’s Me, Sansa...
No, seriously—keep the wine coming. One day, Sansa’s busy planning her new life at Highgarden and dreamily embroidering “Mrs. Loras Tyrell” all over everything, and the next, she’s weepily married off to Tyrion, while Joffrey threatens and torments her throughout the wedding. And then, just when she’s starting to see Tyrion for the caring nurturer/potential ally he is, she finds out that his family orchestrated the Red Wedding, brutally killing her mother and brother (along with a lot of other people).
Oh, and just to top off this steaming pile of crap salad: Tywin won’t stop demanding that Tyrion consummate the marriage and secure an heir, in order to lock down the Lannisters’ claim to the North. I hereby salute, you, Tywin Lannister—there are some truly terrible matchmakers in the world, but you might be the first to deserve your own amendment protocol to the Geneva Convention. Please stop.
Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am: Podrick Payne Is A Legend in the Making.
So at least somebody’s having fun. Enjoy it while you can, Pod, because the good times, they are fleeting…
Sigh. Maybe we’d all be better off hanging out with Grey Worm and the Unsullied (although that doesn’t exactly sound like a party, either). Whatever your plans this Valentine’s Day, just do your best to avoid shady dungeons, dangerous liaisons with blood relatives, treacherous squires, Walder Frey, and, well…never mind. I guess the idea that this show has anything encouraging to teach us about romantic relationships is probably ludicrous, but hey: it’s still less depressing than reality TV. (Well, except for Drag Race. Even the Queen of Thorns loves Drag Race).
In any case, have a happy, safe, non-treachery-filled Valentine’s Day, everybody!
Bridget McGovern is the managing editor of Tor.com, and would one day like to be even half as sassy as Olenna Tyrell. Because damn.